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Farmland Preservation vs. Retirement Security

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:12pm

My husband and I are considering selling the 40 acres of farmland we have adjacent to our home. We have had an offer from the gentleman who is cash-renting it from us now. He is a good worker and has done a wonderful job with the land for the past five years.

My husband had triple-bypass surgery this summer and his working days could be at an end. He is only 53. I, too, have severe health problems, and I am only working part time at a fast-food restaurant.

My husband receives a very small short-term disability payment, which will only last a few more weeks. We are very concerned about making ends meet. We are thinking seriously about selling the land to help us through this time and to put some money back for our retirement years.

We have no children but have willed the home and buildings to our niece and nephew upon our passing so that it will stay in the family. We worry about housing development getting the ground. They would probably just sell the farmland.

We know this person really wants to continue farming it. He also has young children who we know would probably follow in his footsteps. We had a realtor/auctioneer value the land at $150,000. I was hoping for much more.

We have not talked this over with the prospective buyer yet and would very much appreciate any opinion you would have. Do you think it would be wise to sell these 40 acres?

L.J. and her husband love their family's farmland so much that they would put keeping the land in farm use ahead of their clear need to securely fund their future.

The appraised $3,750 per acre may be current ag land value in their part of Ohio, but the proceeds would not exactly assure their long-term security in retirement.

The land and homestead are major assets for this couple and shouldn't be given up without careful thought and a financial plan.

L.J.'s husband is only 53, and presumably she's close to that age. They have potentially many years of life ahead. But given their health problems, their prospects for continued earned income seem severely restricted.

With disability payments ending, their ongoing cash flow for living comes from only two sources: her part-time minimum-wage income (which is not secure in a time of recession) and the cash rent from their 40 acres.

In this financial climate, there are few safe alternatives for investing $150,000 at a reasonable return.

While a personal financial planner is more appropriate as an adviser to L.J. and her husband than I am as a columnist, it seems obvious to me that making irrevocable decisions about their major asset simply is not prudent at this time.

The land is giving them a cash return, which may be hard to reproduce. They could, instead, sell a first option on the land to the interested farmer, but preserve for the future the decision to sell the land, and at what price.

There is one certainty about the couple's future, though. They should be facing it with a knowledgeable financial adviser at their side.

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